It’s Day 15 of the 2017 Haru Basho, and I want to punch ozeki Terunofuji in the nose! We’re at senshuraku [the final day] so there’s no sense in holding back . . . but if you haven’t watched all the way through the end of Day 14, then you may want to go back and do that before you read any further, because I’m not going to worry one bit about spoilers.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
I suppose stage one of this discussion has to center on the concept of a “henka” and if or when it is an appropriate tactic.
A henka is a maneuver made at the tachi-ai [initial charge] where a rikishi, rather than charging straight ahead, jumps to the side partially or fully. If done well, the result is that the opponent charges full force into nothing and is left off balance (or in extreme cases either charges out of the dohyo or ends up sprawled on his belly). This allows the rikishi performing the henka to get a very advantageous position (or lets him win outright without making another maneuver).
Sumo is a sport that grew out of a contest of strength and skill among samurai in ancient Japan. As such, there remain a great many rituals and traditions that harken back to feudal codes of honor. It is considered less-than-honorable to face an opponent on the field of battle (in this case, the sumo dohyo) and win through trickery. Sumo is supposed to be a matching of strength, skill, and speed, and so literally sidestepping those considerations is frowned upon.
However, sumo (and samurai warfare) is also about tactics. And it is ruthlessly straightforward. The only thing that matters in the end is who is victorious—in sumo, who has the most wins over the course of the basho . . . in warfare, who is left alive when the battle is done. Fine points of honor can be argued, but the fact is that telling winners from losers is a simple matter. Still, it is widely agreed that the more you rely on trickery to achieve victory, the less honor you bring to yourself.
In this case, the fight between Terunofuji and sekiwake Kotoshogiku was VERY important to BOTH competitors. For Terunofuji, it meant keeping at least a portion of the lead in the race for the yusho [tournament championship] heading into the final day of the tournament. For Kotoshogiku it meant keeping alive his hope at regaining his lost rank of ozeki—a loss here, and his quest was over. In a case like this, the audience comes hoping to see both rikishi display their strongest sumo . . . a titanic clash where the strongest man would come out on top.
Let’s be clear, I think MOST people fully EXPECTED Terunofuji to win. He’s younger, stronger, and had been having an incredible tournament, crushing every foe who opposed him. Kotoshogiku was having a very good tournament, too . . . but he didn’t look anywhere near as fast or strong as Terunofuji. People expected Terunofuji to win . . . but they wanted to see the fight. When Terunofuji pulled that big henka and Kotoshogiku launched himself into empty air, only to end up face down on the clay, Terunofuji DENIED the crowd what they wanted, and denied Kotoshogiku a chance to lose in an honorable-but-doomed conflict. Basically, Terunofuji won . . . but he won like a punk, rather than like an honorable warrior.
The thing that makes it worse is that with yokozuna Kisenosato’s shoulder injury, Terunofuji will be able to walk away with the yusho. The two men go head-to-head today, and if Terunofuji wins the match, he wins the tournament. If Kisenosato wins, then the two will have a playoff match immediately following the final bout of the day. But if you saw Kisenosato’s match yesterday against yokozuna Kakyryu, you know that his shoulder is still causing him extreme pain, and his whole left arm is nearly useless.
The fight between Kisenosato a Terunofuji was expected to be too close to call, now the advantage is all in the ozeki’s corner. It’s certainly not impossible that the yokozuna could find some way to beat his younger opponent (he’s been pretty dominant in their meetings over the past couple of years) . . . but to do so twice in the space of just twenty minutes or so, with the injury he’s suffering . . . well, that would be beyond extraordinary.
You could be forgiven if, after reading this tirade, you thought that the Kisenosato vs. Terunofuji match was the only one happening today, but we also have a full slate of other matches. And among the forty-plus other rikish, there are six who come into today with 7–7 records, holding their fates in their own hands—M13 Daishomaru, M12 Ura, M11 Ishiura, M10 Tochinoshin, M6 Aoiyama, and M5 Endo. Each of these rikishi will reach kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and get promoted if they win today, or will suffer make-koshi [majority of losses] and a demotion if they lose.
Oh, and before I go, let me encourage you to drop a gratuity into the tip jar of Kintamayama, whose videos have accompanied all of these postings. Without his efforts, we wouldn’t have been able to watch this tournament. He puts a lot of hours into editing these videos and making sure the contain the best pictures and sound available for all of the matches. Thank you, Moti! I’ve left a tip . . . and I hope a bunch of my readers will, too.
Now on to the final day’s matches!
M7 Ichinojo (6–8) vs. M12 Ura (7–7)—Ura has fought incredibly hard, particularly for being an undersized rikishi in his first basho ranked in the upper division. All he needs is one more win to secure his kachi-koshi . . . but win or lose, he’s truly shown what a great talent he is. (5:05)
M14 Myogiryu (6–8) vs. M6 Aoiyama (7–7)—Aoinyama hasn’t had a great basho, but he’s stayed focused and Kept plugging away. That’s put him in this situation where he controls his own destiny. Meanwhile, Myogiryu should have had a dominant basho ranked so far down the banzuke [ranking sheet]. If he can’t pull a seventh win out here, he really deserves to be demoted to Juryo for a while. (6:00)
M13 Daishomaru (7–7) vs. M5 Hokutofuji (6–8)—Daishomaru is another young rikishi who put in a strong, gutsy performance this tournament, and now holds his fate in his own hands. Hokotofuji is reportedly a little bit injured, and will be falling down the banzuke for May’s tournament. (7:05)
M5 Endo (7–7) vs. M10 Tochinoshin (7–7)—The Kyokai [Sumo Association] likes to pit 7–7 rikishi against each other . . . especially when they’re both popular fighters. Honestly the way his tournament began, with a nearly useless right leg, I never expected Tochinoshin to get to this stage. Hopefully, he can get one more win and bump himself up the banzuke next time. But Endo is no slouch, either, despite having a rocky tournament. A win will put him near the top of the Maegashira ranks for the Natsu Basho in May. (8:00)
M11 Ishiura (7–7) vs. M3 Takarafuji (6–8)—Both the rikishi lost a few matches that they ought to have won over the past fortnight. Ishiura still has a chance to pull out his kachi-koshi, while Takarafuji is fighting merely for pride. We’ll see which one wants it more. (8:30)
Sekiwake Kotoshogiku (8–6) vs. M4 Yoshikaze (8–6)—Kotoshogiku must be absolutely crushed after having his chances at ozeki reinstatement snatched away so ignominiously yesterday . . . but he’s got to come back today and give it his all. This might be his final fight, as retirement has to be something he’s giving full consideration. Either way, he wants to end the basho on a win, if only so he can look back and say, “I’d have made it, if Terunofuji wasn’t such a punk!” (12:50)
Ozeki Terunofuji (13–1) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (12–2)—This is the match we’ve all been waiting for . . . though with a dark cloud hanging over it. Can Kisenosato find a way to overcome his shoulder injury and beat Terunofuji? If he does, they’ll have identical records and will have to go to a playoff bout to decide the yusho. (Should that happen, it would be the final match at the end of the video.) The big question, though, is given his injury, will fans give him a break if he doesn’t beat Terunofuji? Will they credit him for true yokozuna guts and honor just for showing up when he’s in so much pain? I never thought there was any doubt that he deserved his promotion to yokozuna, despite his lack of back-to-back yusho . . . but his performance here in Osaka hopefully has proven that to even his most bitter detractors. (14:25)